Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sex sells... even in abstract art

Last night I attended CUE Art Foundation's Meeting Artists' Needs VIII. Becoming an Entrepreneur: Marketing Tips for Artists, presented by John Zinsser, who co-founded of the Journal of Contemporary Art, has had solo exhibitions at Stark Gallery (NYC), Thomas Solomon'’s Garage (L.A.) and Galerie Von Lintel (Munich), amongst others. (blurb from CUE site).


Let me first explain my point of view when attending these types of lectures/workshops. I tend to be pretty well informed about most of the professional practices of the arts (marketing, contracts, residencies, grants,opportunities, etc), so I usually attend these lectures expecting to A) reconfirm what I already know B) maybe pick up a few gems of knowledge that might enhance what I already know. Mostly I have pretty low expectations in gaining any real insights. (But am still thankful that they are organized and presented for artists who don't know a lot of this already).

Last night, upon taking a seat each attendee found two sheets of paper. One was a standard survey asking the attendee for feedback on the event. The second was a list, in large typeface of "25 Marketing Tips for Artists, by John Zinsser." Reading through the list produced lots of eye rolls, groans and feelings of annoyance (you'll see why as you read the list).

Here's the interesting part though, as uncharitable as I was feeling towards Mr. Zinsser and his list, he managed to mostly win me over. His extemporaneous presentation was clever, witty and filled with nice little gems of information. Some of the information is a little dated for an artist starting out now (they seem to have worked in the past, but may not anymore), but most of it is spot on good advice for 2006 and beyond. And despite the woman next to me who snoozed through most of the presentation, I found most of what he had to say engaging and presented in a knowledgeable way - although not without some irony. Without further ado, the list (with paraphrases of what Mr. Zinsser discussed in blue; my comments in red):

1. Be Yourself.
This one is pretty self explanatory. Its why you become an artist.
2. Don't be yourself.
Why not reinvent your public persona. Design your own fictional character to become.
3. Go to openings.
Ugh. Can think of a lot of yucky things I would rather do, but it is a good opportunity to meet other artists and talk to artists' whose work you admire (Mr. Zinsser's point). My own advice, don't be an opening whore, but do find artists and/or galleries you want to support and do go to their openings, and you know, show your support.
4. Print a business card.
Duh, this is such a no brainer and so easy to do. (If you don't know how, get in touch with me and I will help). Zinsser talked about fashioning it after an old style calling card. Just your name imprinted on a card. Then you write the info you want to share on the card (which is good if you move a lot). I like this idea a lot. Currently I have the 'collectors series' which has a different image of my work on each one, but I am liking the name only thing, has some snob appeal which I greatly appreciate.
5. Choose a "uniform."
Zinsser wanted to point out that having a recognizable 'look' is only a benefit.
6. Meet other artists.
He's talking about a peer group here. Maybe its a group with whom you share styles, so that you develop a movement (hello all my synthetic naturalist friends!), or a group with whom you can learn, grow, bitch and moan.
7. Befriend mentors.
Find elder more experience artists/educators from whom you can learn and grow.
8. Work for an artist.
You can learn skills, meet people and if the artist you work for is generous hearted, maybe make some inroads.
9. Work for a gallery.
Zinsser was asserting that this was a good way to understand and get involved in the gallery aesthetic. Unfortunately more and more (as I have heard from people I know) working in a gallery can be little use, and sometimes even work against you. You get pegged as the person who works in the gallery and are never taken seriously as an artist.
10. Review shows for magazines.
Although there may be those who disagree, I have to agree with Zinsser. Not only do you get to see shows, meet gallerists and artists, it improves your ability to speak about art.
12. Organize shows using alternative venues.
How many times have I told y'all to do this??? Oh, once or twice.
13. Make posters for streets.
Yeh its illegal, but I bet you do a lot that's illegal and don't think twice about it (speeding? double parking?) It is an interesting way to put work out there. I reserve it for my street specific work, but there's no reason not to do it for any type of art work. And hey, you could cover up some of the repulsive advertising that is out there on the walls already.
14. Write letters.
Mr. Zinsser points out that A) artists aren't rockstars, they are only famous in our little world. So, why not get in touch with one. And if you want to stand out, then write a letter! It's such a shocking thing to do that you will be noticed. Ex-Seattle Dad wrote a letter to Eric Fischl and sent slides and he got back this mostly prosaic, but also helpful review of his work. I think that is great! Now, who to stalk...
15. E-mail people.
But make it personal, mass emails may be somewhat helpful in promoting your work, but personalized ones will get people to respond.
16. Blog.
Duh. It keeps you thinking about your work and others, and gets feedback (sometimes nice, sometimes nasty, but always entertaining). Bet as soon as he found out I was a blogger he could guess this was coming. He brought up the blog painternyc.blogspot.com.
17. Create a website.
Why would you not.
18. Make compelling work.
Yeh, I wondered why this wasn't number one. And Zinsser argues it quite well and unfortunately, I am afraid he may be true. Compelling work is great and all that, but it doesn't guarantee you success.
19. Say something outlandish.
20. Say something scandalous.
21. Create scandal.
All of these are about being noticed and memorable.
22. Sex sells.
Even in abstract art where Mr. Zinsser claims (yes, tongue in cheek) "the sublimated libido enters the material."
23. Believe the market.
The art that sells is the art that sells, whether you are making that kind of art or not. Mr. Zinsser doesn't think there will be a crash in the market because "for the wafer thin level of the super rich, art is the only thing with which they can define themselves and their money."
24. Don't be bitter.
I so agree with Mr. Zinsser on this (and I know JT does too). Yeh, you may not be young enough, male enough, white enough, urban enough, or whatever. Who cares - you are making art! That is so so cool in and of itself. There are so many people who never ever figure out what they really love. If you are pursuing this, and have given up things for it (money, comfort, food, free time), then you are passionate about something and doing something you love. There is an amazing freedom in that. So really there is no reason at all to be bitter. Ever. Period. (and my rants are not veiled bitterness - really!)
25. Let fate be.
You cannot force things to happen they will happen as and when they do.


There were lots of bon mots in the conversation, which I wish I had noted. One had something to do with being obsessive compulsive (I am, are you?) and how as an artist "you spend a little too much time with yourself and you become compulsive, paranoid..."

There was also an interesting argument posed by a Russian artist in the audience, unfortunately I couldn't understand much of what she was saying, but she seemed to be trying to argue that 'real artists' don't do most of the things on the list. Zinsser roundly disagreed, as I would too.

It was a fun evening, one of the Brooklyn College artists was behind me telling their ongoing tale, I wish I had a chance to talk to her but she left before I did.

I also met Sky's friend Tom, who is having an open studio at PS 122 this weekend. Go see it.

Otherwise, come on out to Clinton Hill to see the big Open Studios event happening out here this weekend.

And a word of warning, I am going to the Biennial tomorrow. Which means you will have to be gentle with me over the next few days as I absorb it all...(aren't y'all impressed I put it off for so long?)

If I had a way to contact Zinsser (I don't) I would ask him for additional comments or clarifications to ensure he and his point of view are well represented.

The images have absolutely nothing to do with the content of this posting. They are my work, and I just thought a visual break in all this text would be nice.

1 comment:

carol es said...

great post, very informative, with lots of clever additives! :)